The Orioles of the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s were great teams. They had incredible pitching and some future Hall of Famers in the lineup (i.e. Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, and Frank Robinson). But I don't believe they were the best O's teams.
The Baltimore Orioles of the mid-1890s were baseball's best. They were dirty, baited umpires, and would do anything and everything to win.
Despite frequently playing dirty, they sometimes did not have to. They were a team that had the "Little Big Four" that consisted of shortstop Hughie Jennings, outfielders Willie Keeler and Joe Kelley, and third baseman and future Giants manager John McGraw.
In 1893, the Baltimore Orioles were managed by Ned Hanlon, and won just 60 and lost 70. They were definitely becoming a rising team in baseball. They had Joe Kelley in the outfield and they had John McGraw at short; the O's hoped they would carry the team
They would certainly help. At the end of the year, they traded for a young shortstop by the name of Hugh Ambrose Jennings. This would be a trade that would work on the O's end.
Jennings struggled in late 1893, going 14-for-55 (.255) with nine errors in just 43 chances, totaling to a lowly .886 fielding percentage. The O's would also receive a man named William Keeler, a fair-hitting outfielder.
The next year, both Jennings and Keeler made impacts as starters. Jennings hit .335 with four home runs and 109 RBI in his first full season as an Oriole. 1894 was a 2008 Ray-like year. They won 89 and lost just 39.
Every one in the lineup hit over .303 and Ned Hanlon did a wizard-like job of managing. Keeler hit .371 with five home runs and 94 RBI. McGraw had 92 RBI and hit .340 and Kelley had 111 RBI and hit .393.
The 1894 Orioles had five men drive in 100 runs: Dan Brouthers (128), Heinie Reitz (105), Hughie Jennings (109), Steve Brodie (113), and Joe Kelley (111).
They were very close to having all nine men with 100. Catcher Wilbert Robinson had 98, John McGraw had 92, and Willie Keeler had 97. The rotation wasn't as great as the O's were in the '60s and '70s.
They did have three pitchers with 15 or more wins. Sadie McMahon was 25-8, Bill Hawke was 16-9, and Kid Gleason was 15-5.
This was definitely not a one time thing. In 1895, the Orioles were 87-43, winning the National League Pennant for the second straight year.
Hughie Jennings continued to grow into a star, with four home runs, 125 RBI, and a .386 batting clip. John McGraw hit .369 with 48 RBI. They were dominant, outscoring teams 1009 to 646. Joe Kelley had another great year, with 10 home runs, 134 RBI, and a .325 batting average. Steve Brodie did as well, with 134 RBI and a .348 batting average.
In 1896 they were 90-39, winning the pennant again. Ned Hanlon continued his amazing managing, improving his record to 266-122 in the last three seasons. First baseman Jack Doyle had 101 RBI, while Heinie Reitz had 106 RBI. The season of unsung heroes, huh? Hughie Jennings had 121 RBI and hit an amazing .401.
1897 was a crucial year. The beloved O's were 90-40, but lost the pennant to the Boston Beaneaters. However, the O's made up for the loss and won the annual Temple Cup over the Boston Beaneaters.
They had two more seasons of success until Hanlon invested his money to create the Brooklyn Superbas, removing the O's from baseball until 1954.
While the O's of the 1890s weren't as sexy, they were as good as, if not better than, the great O's team who dominated the game in the '60s and '70s.
Led by Ned Hanlon, they shocked the baseball world in 1894 and maintained until the team split. In my opinion, the O's were better. They were a team I would pay to see—any day.